Murdo Fraser dismissed Nicola Sturegon's bid to keep EU free movement
Former Scottish Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser insisted there’s no “substantial demand” among Scottish voters to maintain an open-door to EU nationals once the UK quits the bloc.
As part of her call for a ‘differentiated’ Brexit deal for Scotland, Ms Sturgeon has told the Prime Minister her country should be allowed to keep EU free movement – putting the First Minister at odds with Theresa May’s plan to restrict EU immigration to the UK.
The SNP leader has suggested continuing free movement is a necessity to combat Scotland’s ageing population, but denied it would see the creation of a ‘hard’ border between England and Scotland.
But Mr Fraser told Ms Sturgeon instead of agitating with the Prime Minister to keep unrestricted EU migration, the Scottish Government should instead be working harder to make Scotland a more attractive place for newcomers.
Speaking to Express.co.uk in London this week, Mr Fraser said: “It would be wrong to characterise everybody in Scotland as being pro-immigration.
“People in Scotland, I think it’s fair to say, characterise the balance of immigration and trade very similar to people across the UK as a whole.
“I don’t think there’s a substantial demand for Scotland to retain absolute free movement of people.
“The Scottish economy has benefited from migrant labour to a large extent, as has the rest of the UK.
“The most interesting statistic is that of the immigrants who come to the UK, from the EU and elsewhere in the world, the proportion who come to Scotland is only three per cent of the total.
“So the challenge for the Scottish Government really is to say, ‘why is it that we’re getting so few immigrants coming to Scotland compared to the rest of UK?’”
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It’s not entirely clear that the SNP currently have a mandate for a second independence referendum.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser
Mr Fraser urged Ms Sturgeon to concentrate on striving “to create a more dynamic economy” in Scotland to attract greater immigration “as opposed to necessarily having to increase the total pool of immigrants” in the UK as a whole.
The Tory MSP told SNP ministers they should make the most of their tax-setting powers to boost jobs and lure people to Scotland.
The Scottish Government recently outlined plans to make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK.
Mr Fraser said: “We’ve been very clear, we think increasing taxes in Scotland above what you pay in the rest of the UK is entirely the wrong direction to go in.
“The Scottish economy is underperforming the UK economy, we should be at the very least matching UK levels of taxation if not actually going below to try and attract people to come and settle in Scotland.”
'No mandate' for second independence referendum
The Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP also dismissed Ms Sturgeon’s claim Brexit has put the issue of Scottish independence back on the table, highlighting how the SNP is currently a minority administration in Holyrood.
Mr Fraser said: “It’s not entirely clear that the SNP currently have a mandate for a second independence referendum.
“They didn’t get a majority of seats in the election that was held in 2016.
“It would be reasonable to say, you’ve got to get a fresh mandate at the next Scottish elections in the Spring of 2021 before a referendum can be held.”
Mr Fraser claimed there is “absolutely no interest” in Scotland for another independence referendum before Brexit is completed/
He added: “People in Scotland believe this issue was settled in 2014.
“Even people who were sympathetic towards independence don’t want another early referendum.”
Mr Fraser suggested if Mrs May told the Scottish Government it could only hold a second independence referendum “at the earliest three, four, five years away” it would “win the support of most people in Scotland”.